To some people, watercolor can sometimes feel like you are racing against the clock – you’re trying to complete your artwork all in one coat of paint before it dries up. 

During one of my advanced courses, Beauty in Bloom, I finished my painting, allowed it to dry then added another layer of paint. My students watched me in horror as I repeated the process and added layer, after layer, after layer. 

I realized that not many of them knew about layering and glazing. It was a foreign concept to them, but they marveled at how their work of art turned out. It’s a method you can use as you grow your skills as a watercolor artist and gain your unique style. 

So, What is Layering? And How Can it Be Your Best Friend? 

Layering is the concept of adding one layer of paint onto your paper, allowing it to dry, then wet your brush, and adding more paint. It can be the same color or a blend of other colors. Glazing is the color appearance of the final painting after layering. 

Although layering can seem like a scary thing to do, it isn’t the worst thing that can happen to your painting. 

On the contrary, you can always use it to your advantage to implement and add depth or some abstract elements, depending on what you plan on aiming for. It's not a burden to layer or glaze over your paintings, the process is actually very beneficial! Once you learn other strategies that help turn those layers and glazings into a positive change in your painting, it will become an important tool up your sleeve that will make you wonder why you ever questioned it in the first place.

But, there are a few things to consider when layering and glazing… 

Timing is Everything

Patience is a virtue and that's especially true with your drying paint. Once you do decide to layer your watercolors over each other, timing should still be of the essence. 

Normally, it would be to ensure your paint dries once, but this time it’s to be completely certain that it has dried before you begin painting over them again. Allowing your painting to thoroughly dry helps avoid any unwanted smudging between colors, or glazing. 

Painting over more wet paint can give a blending effect between your different colors instead of layers. Once you’re sure that they are completely dry, adding water back onto your painting allows you to layer them in ways that come out nice and crisp for any kind of look you’re going for.

Keep In Mind the Colors Used

When layering your work, it's crucial to be aware of the mixture of colors in your palate. Some don't always go hand in hand with one another and can become redundant to your painting. If you begin with a dark black color for your first layer, not many other lighter colors are going to show on your painting other than black spots everywhere. Unless you are going for a more dark-based painting, it does not leave much room for an artist to maneuver around dark watercolor paint and restricts the painter from adding any color to your painting. A good balance between dark and light colors is needed in order to get the most out of your layering.

Best to Start with Light Washes

A common issue with watercolor is starting off with heavy brush strokes with darker colors that restrict your ability to ease into an idea. Once you start with a dark red, yellow, green, etc. You are locked into that color till the end and the only option left is to go darker, which can just further the issue. Starting off with light washes helps with adding color while keeping your canvas open to any changes you wish to make later. It's easier to darken a layer when needed than to set yourself in that color and work the rest of your painting around it. 

Use a Soft Brush

Soft brushes are key in your layer process. Adding water to your previous layer and brushing over then with another color will work great, as long as you keep your brushes swift and soft. Without this careful caress, there's always a chance of your brush scraping the paint below causes the pigments to activate ending in unwanted results. 

Remember it’s Never Too Late to Fix Your Painting, it’s Always Fixable!

The most important thing to keep in mind when creating any form of art is that there are no mistakes! Paintings are always fixable even when it feels like you did something completely wrong. These techniques are here to help you in your creative journey and are not meant to be taken as a step-by-step instruction page for an artist to copy and paste. 

An artist is always their own worst critic, and most of the judgment towards your paintings will come from your own thoughts. That's why it's always important to remind yourself that mistakes and human error is what makes art what it is. We are not perfect, and neither are our drawings. They are perfectly imperfect! 

Painting is a form of expression that can only be done by the individual, and there are never any accidents in expressing yourself through art. It's not supposed to be an activity to be stressed about, it should be a place to come to and rid yourself of that. Watercoloring is an activity where imperfections are welcomed. So don’t be afraid to layer your painting! 

Do you like to layer and glaze in your paintings? Or, willing to try it out? Comment below and let me know!